Movie Review of Contagion by OUTFOX Prevention; from an Infection Control Standpoint

posted Sep 15, 2011, 8:15 AM by Todd Fox   [ updated Sep 24, 2016, 8:23 AM ]

With the circus and issues that were surrounding Swine Flu, it could be foreseen that a major motion picture would soon be released about an outbreak, drastic disease effects, virus spreading capabilities, vaccine debates, vaccine supply issues, late outbreak reporting, inadequate warning communications, pharmaceutical company influence or general infection control principles.  Contagion had them all... and more.  It was difficult to determine which side of the debate the movie producers were intending to be on.  Were they showing support for the CDC, bureaucratic processes, pharmaceutical company influence, infection control blogs, animal testing, extensive human trials, etc. or were they against them?

Instead of giving a summary of the movie, I have decided to give brief discussion on the positive and negative points that were addressed throughout the movie.  For each point, I produced potential actions that may result from the positive and negative implications being featured in Contagion.  As OUTFOX has addressed in the past, well-meaning virus warnings and fear tactics may have negative effects not intended.  We stand behind taking a responsible approach to hygiene and infection control.  Living and working within a maintainable strategy that limits infection and increases the strength of your immune system is ideal.


Positive points that may produce positive results:

-Limit the amount of times you touch your face.  Being aware of the amount of infectious diseases passed from your hands to your face can help reduce the amount of illnesses that you receive from other people (Contagion said the average person touches their face 2-3 thousand times a day or 3-5 times per waking minute).  Limiting the amount of touches can be a hard habit to break but it is something that anyone can start working on now.  There are really no negative effects adding this practice into your personal infection control plan.  Specifically, stopping this practice doesn't set you apart socially as being "OCD" or overly concerned about hygiene.

-Watch what your hands are and have been touching.  Some places contain more germs per square inch than others.  Watch for areas that are high traffic and are infrequently cleaned.  Contagion pointed out door knobs, bus handrails, ATM buttons, cash registers, credit cards, drink glasses, binders, other people's hands and other places as contact points where the virus spread.  Acting responsibly with your hands can reduce the amount of illnesses you receive.  If you need to touch a high traffic area, have hand sanitizer available or find a place where you can wash your hands.  Touching high traffic areas is part of life, but acting responsibly by cleaning your hands (and not touching your face) can help.

-Avoid highly concentrated areas, especially those with the propensity to spread germs.  Casinos were highlighted because it was concluded to be the start of the virus.  It is not recommended to avoid all social activities or areas with a lot of people, but acting responsibly increases the likelihood of you staying healthy.  Some viewers may see the producers' focus on casinos and subsequently think that they should avoid casinos altogether in the future (other than the gambling habit pitfalls), but just taking extra precaution in regards to your hygiene habits (touching the face, shaking hands, handling money, washing or sanitizing hands, etc.) can allow you to enjoy yourself AND be healthy. 

-If you are working with a lot of sick patients, your likelihood of getting sick is very high.  Because of the nature of the medical career, employees are going to be subject to many viruses that the average person will not have to deal with.  If you are a medical professional, you need to constantly protect yourself through good hygiene and infection control procedures.  You should always be living and working within sound infection control principles, regardless of the emergency or disaster happening at the time.

-Take action when you are sick.  Taking action may include going to the doctor, staying home, taking necessary or recommended medication and so forth.  It is when people try to go about their normal day, at the time they are sick, that they spread the germs to other people.  Your infection control plan to take care of yourself before, during or after an illness will determine how well you deal with the current and next virus and how far reaching your effects will be on friends, loved ones and acquaintances.  The discussion about being sick on weekends was very helpful.  People are more likely to try to stick out an illness over the weekend instead of seeking help.  Resting from an illness is good as long as it is not serious enough for a doctor visit.

-Hygiene masks are not as taboo as many think in the States.  Many countries have adopted the hygiene mask practice more openly than we are used to.  It is a personal preference that shouldn't be as shunned as much as it is in America. 

Negative points that may produce negative results:

-Without knowing the intricacies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many viewers of Contagion may lose faith in the organization and how it helps out with current and future situations.  The CDC looked slow, bureaucratic and unable to effectively deal with the virus.  The movie did not represent all of the prevention work, literature, support and other resources that have been committed to fighting disease by the CDC and government entities.  Further, it showed private labs being shut down that may further fuel dissatisfaction for the CDC.  Although the CDC and WHO may have their inefficiencies and shortcomings, there are many things that they do behind the scenes that help maintain high standards.  Can they become better than they are?  Sure.  However, our efforts should be pointed toward working with them to accomplish higher goals and not towards battling against them.

-Many conspiracy theories may arise.  Some viewers of Contagion are going to tie viruses, reports, CDC action or inaction, government interaction and other information together to formulate theories.  Skepticism may peak in regards to the government's ability to find, test, treat and prevent viruses in the future.  Poking holes in prevention efforts may slow overall progress and reduce needed research funds.

-Confusion arises about how in the dark the average person is about viruses.  After watching Contagion, viewers were left wondering how much is not reported or how much time goes by before information is released.  Although some information can be withheld to protect the greater good, Contagion raised a lot of red flags.  The communication issue that was addressed (when is the appropriate time to report numbers, seriousness, ability/inability to prevent, etc.?) can have positive and negative effects.  Citizens may more apt to be inpatient with information not coming immediately… and this may cause further problems.  However, agencies and managers of governmental organizations may address this as a real concern and try to make their communications timelier.

-Tendency to over-rely on vaccines.  Contagion seemed to glorify the vaccine as the only way that people could survive or return to normal life.  While Contagion was exhibiting an extreme example of a virus, many viewers are going to walk away more concerned about vaccines and relying on medication than prevention.  Vaccines have their place, but nothing can replace the important role that prevention procedures play in infection control. 

-There might be a reduction in the amount of pork or other products purchased.  Showing a simplified transmission from bat to pig to human may cause unnecessary alarm to consumers.  At the present time, there are few wide-reaching viruses that are spread.  Many of these viruses are stopped or reduced due to testing at multiple points in the processing of food and other consumer goods.  Even though this has been a concern with mad cow, salmonella and other viruses, overemphasizing and scaring consumers does not prove to be ideal.

-Run on drugs.  Highlighting the run on drugs, although necessary for the show and entertaining, may heighten real situations today.  During swine flu and other reported outbreaks, many consumers overreact.  Showing the lone women to not get the medicine recommended by the blogger dying painted a picture in many viewers' minds.  The likelihood of more people making a run on drugs is higher.  Many viewers likely ran through scenarios of how they would do the same thing, drawing them closer to doing the real thing.



As can be seen, not all positive points were positive and vice versus with the negative points.  Again, living within a maintainable strategy for your personal infection control is ideal.  Contagion contained a lot of industry jargon that may not have been necessary to get the message across.  Several terms and concepts shared may prove useful to the general population.  The discussion about clusters was very informative to those viewers I have interviewed.  Also, the questionnaire and fact finding analysis that was conducted with Matt Damon's character was insightful for viewers.  Viewers mentioned that it got their minds thinking of their own daily routines and how they can better insert simple infection control processes to reduce infection. 

Overall, the movie tried to over-dramatize events and did so unsuccessfully with music that did not fit the situation.  Different background music would have portrayed many of the situations to seem more intense or joyous.  Once the vaccine was found, it was difficult to tell whether the virus was going to mutate and throw the CDC and other government organizations for another loop.  It was a very odd ending that left the viewer asking "Is that it?"  Time will tell if this movie will have an impact for the good or bad in regards to hygiene and infection control.  Maybe that time will come with the next big outbreak... Contagion.

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